The Face of Gnon

The Still Face experiment is one of the greatest psychology experiments to have ever been performed, and through its well-grounded replication* it is one of the sturdiest foundations for theory in any form of the social sciences, and a theory of social psychology that could not incorporate this observation would almost certainly fail to make any accurate predictions about macroscale society. Time and again in my speculating and theorizing on social feedback loops I come back to the Still Face experiment as an analogy for the patterns and regularities of individual and institutional behavior.

*The experiment is very easy to verify. Simply try it on any available infant. And yes, I understand that it appears suspiciously abusive. I’m not necessarily condoning the experiment.

The infant, receiving the expected feedback, continues to remain happy and show behaviors associated with positive regard to the mother; but, when the mother ceases to express any facial expressions whatsoever, the infant becomes wary without the expected feedback. As suggested by Tronick, one of the original academics to perform the study in the 70’s, “an adequate explanation of the still-face effect had to consider not only immediate experience but also the infants’ appreciation that the expected patterns of social interaction had been violated.”¹ The infant, dissatisfied, indeed truly distressed by this state of affairs, takes action by all learned means he knows to obtain the desired result. He amplifies his signaling slowly at first, but finding that still produces no feedback, he continues to amplify until he has exhausted all potential means of signaling to find the expected, and strongly desired, feedback; in this case, the affection and approval of his mother, to know that he is recognized and cared for.

It is not difficult to extrapolate this model of behavioral amplification to other everyday social interactions between adults. The difference is that adults have had more time to learn and adapt a plethora of social behaviors, and thus understand how to most appropriately amplify the power of one’s signal in everyday social contexts. This can make the effect of amplification less noticeable, as they have learned better how to modulate their behavior in order to amplify their signaling power which will produce the best social outcome; compare a teenaged girl threatening suicide to a man answering the phone with a “Hello? Hello..?” The former is clearly more dramatic, and  thus represents a riskier escalation of signaling, as it may result in unwanted attention in the form of concerned and disciplining parents; teenage girls frequently threaten suicide in order to get attention, but not necessarily everyone’s attention. The former is no less a form of amplification of signaling power, but is many magnitudes lower in degree of strongest signaling strategies learned. The first hello, followed by the second with an inflection is a response to a lack of expected feedback; typically when you receive a call, you expect someone to respond after the first hello. Amplification of signaling power is, as you can see, of a morally orthogonal character; ”Excuse me’’ said as a means of getting a person’s attention is polite, while punching them in the face is not. The virtue of the behavior in question aside, the point is that this tendency to amplify signaling power in the unexpected cessation of feedback is an adaptive behavior.

This reflexive repetition is, as any heuristical behavior would be, not necessarily perfect, only good enough. Sometimes this repetition with amplification of the signal has significant and personally negative consequences; after all, some people really do kill themselves as part of a bid for attention.

In both interpersonal and institutional interactions, the employment of an amplification strategy to produce an expected and desired result will have either of three results; 1) the expected result obtains, 2) one gives up continuing to employ that behavioral strategy, or 3) negative consequences occur which forces the individual to stop its behavior. Sometimes the expected feedback just needed a little more push, and thus the repetition did happen to be truly instrumental in having a causal effect; sometimes the lack of expected result precipitates quitting or changing strategy; and sometimes they influence events through their signaling so as to bring harm on themselves. “Fighting words,’’ as it were. The strategy of amplification can be seen in the taunts leading up to a violent confrontation, countries threatening war, websites raiding and/or trolling each other, or corporations amassing patents, each being a signal of high strength and a strong claim of status, backed with the threat of physical, nuclear, digital, or legal means of resolving conflicts.

Forms of amplification which spontaneously order themselves and involve not strictly demarcated groups of people, such as nations or businesses, or even coherent signals, but those associated as a cultural group or thede, come in the example of Ferguson, Occupy Wall Street, and Chik-Fil-A Appreciation Day. In all cases, the formula is simple; initial action does not produce the expected result, so amplification of that behavior follows. The blacks in Ferguson had the belief that amplification of their protest via looting and rioting would bring reward, and perhaps it will. Occupy Wall Street was essentially a purely cultural phenomena, embedded completely within and inseparable from the general activist culture, explaining at once its failure and just what it is; it had no clear signals, as the signals themselves were revered as idols capable of producing second-order effects in the shape of appealing to the Powers That Be. It is a culture which is tapped into that fundamental willingness of humans to adapt behaviors they do not perceive any essential effect on the world, but do so in order to gain the approval of the group. Given the dependence of the individual on the group for the propagation of his genes, it is obvious social-historical evolution would select for an appreciable rate of credulousness, exploiting that heuristic of amplification through appeals to powers over-ascribed agency; religions which seek agricultural bounty in their gods and appeal to them through sacrifice and submission to the social norms associated with pleasing the gods.

Over time, the evolution of societies selected for those religions to survive which promoted the survival of its adherents. This might be considered how the instinct for religiosity developed, and the association of that sense of deeper power than what is immediately seen with particular symbols which help identify fellow adherents; the tendency to participate in and enforce social norms that have no obvious first-order benefit will arise over time simply due to groups which don’t being out-competed in the long run.  However, the fate of the society is substantially determined by the initial social norms it adapts; to borrow from genetics, social norms are a society’s genotype, which interact with material conditions in the form of nature and competition with other cultures, groups, and religions. It is probably useless to speculate as to the exact figures, but it is clear that what is particular to humans is that the social conditions exerted by human forces have had more effect on sexual selection than nature likely since the advent of man. The propagation of your group simply by relying on nature is easy, but humans have filled their ecological niche to the point that outside growing the niche through continual mastery of nature the greatest pressure on shall mostly come from other individuals and groups.

The selection for conformity to the group so as to best ensure genetic propagation has proven so effective in humans that we have been able to put together societies composed of more than a billion relatively long-lived, resource intensive individuals. This has proven possible through the ability to transmit highly compressed information, allowing individuals to transfer knowledge about the environment and shape the behavior of other individuals on the object-level with enough reliability that we essentially don’t understand the complete inner workings of a society and all its essential parts and functions. We have abstract models which become too fuzzy to be used on the actual ground level of human individuals actually interacting with each other. This creates a double-edged sword which evolution might exploit; humans which remain reliably influenced by social pressures can help propagate their group through taking advantage of vaguely or completely unknown second- or nth-order effects, but any weaknesses in that meme relative nth-order effects it fails to adapt for will subject it to its own deterioration while the fabric of the society it once unified comes apart.

The nearer the memetic functioning of a society, i.e. that implicit aggregation of the behavioral orientiation of all the individual members, to Gnon, the more effectively shall those memeplexes be whittled away in order to more rapidly induce norms that partake of second- and third-order effects, which resulted in sophisticated societies of impressive size and perpetuity such as Egypt and Rome within a relatively short amount of time since the rise of civilization. At the same time, such a size and complexity can extend initially constructive memeplexes into nth-order cycles of history that it isn’t adapted to, e.g. secular cycles.

If a vision or purpose of a society’s memeplex comes to take prominence in the distribution of social and material capital in that society, and that particular vision is inordinately invested in a particular cosmology which is at odds with adaptive intergenerational feedback loops, that society comes face to face with Gnon. The desire for the impossible, set above all other things, will not initially reveal itself, for the full effects of slowly tearing at the social fabric may not reveal itself for generations; that is how important social norms are to the effective implementation of collective active solutions for game theoretic problems faced by society which have feedback cycles measured in generations of human lives. A project originally set about to settle some problem, applied from a flagrantly inaccurate model of the world, will fail to bring about its intended goal; indeed, in many ways no particular goal is ever intended by any concerted effort of a group, but occurs reflexively through a memeplex’s adaptedness to the vagueness of society’s [some vagueness is good, as it permits submission to optimal practices with higher-order benefits we don’t perceive] conditions.

Consider a memeplex an abstract set of behaviors; now consider that set of behaviors as a single, information-dense composite signal. Given the formula of amplifying a signal in the case that less powerful signals of that kind fail to obtain the expected result, this predicts that with the consolidation of a memeplex’s eschatological vision of society, and the more fanatically it is able to divert resources to bringing about its impossible eschaton, then the response to failure shall be to amplify. No other strategy is left for obtaining the desired result; and you can wail and wail to the face of Gnon, but Gnon’s face will always be still. The only means by which the memeplex shall be destroyed is through the discrediting of the memeplex with the destruction of its proponents; being the ur-theory of all theories, the conditions of its own falsifiability is usually thousands of inferential steps from the speculative power of any human being. This effectively guarantees that a society captured by a memeplex shall be ruled by that memeplex, for better or worse, until its dissolution into barbarism or destruction by a competing group.

¹Adamson, L. B., & Prick, J. E. (2003). The Still Face: A History of a Shared Experimental Paradigm. Page 463.

Oppression as Game Theoretic Solution to Collective Action Problems

Sometimes the only solution to a game is to not play, such as games which involve mutually assured destruction in the case of defection. Sometimes the solution is to play it many times, such as the prisoner’s dilemma where iteration affords one the strategy of tit-for-tat, which will tend to produce optimal outcomes for both players. In cases where defection takes the form of free riding, the power to punish free riders often tends to bring about positive equilibria.

Consider a game in which a group of players are initially given $10, but given the opportunity to put their money in a pot where the total will be doubled and redistributed among the players. The optimal equilibrium for the players is everyone to donate all their money to the pot, where after being doubled everyone will receive $20. However, you do not know beforehand whether everyone will choose to cooperate; if you give your money and others do not, you will have less overall while the defectors will have more. After iteration, equilibrium tends to evolve towards little or no money being contributed to the pot.

However, if you introduce the power for people to punish other players, at a cost to themselves, a positive, near-optimal equilibrium tends to evolve through iteration. If you can give $1 in order to deprive $3 of someone else, there is the possibility of punishing defectors; when you realize that there are enough other people in the group willing to punish others for defection, the individual’s optimal strategy becomes cooperation, since defection will reliably result in worse outcomes.

If one has these groups compete against each other, with those groups “surviving” who remain in the top four quintiles of group success, one would tend to observe that those groups which most reliably establish this norm of punishing defectors will stick around, while those that cannot converge on this equilibrium will be selected out. Evolution as a group game, if you will. One notices that at this level of iteration, second-order feedback loops become possible; for instance, if one notices that, at the level of choosing to punish defectors, there are a few who yet reliably defect from that form of cooperation, the optimal strategy becomes to punish those who defect from punishing the first-order defectors. With the first-order game strategy guaranteed by an optimal second-order equilibrium, these first-order equilibria prove surprisingly resilient against entropic forces. Likewise, the second-order strategy entails a third-order strategy (punishing those who won’t punish those who won’t punish first-order defectors) all the way up, with these nth-order strategies becoming more pertinent with repetition and iteration assuming the group selection process (and repopulation of groups selected out from the populations of those groups which remain) goes on. Over time, assuming creatures which evolved to play only this kind of game, the ability of keeping track who has demonstrated a willingness to punish first-, second-, and nth-order defectors all the way up becomes necessary, as it would pose the only limit to how effectively a group can maintain itself once equilibrium at the lower levels is reached.

The moral of the story here is that, sometimes in order to solve collective action problems, punishment is an indisputable, occasionally essential, means of incentivizing cooperation.

When one examines society, there are a few social norms which are adoptions of this strategy. For instance, punishment for not paying taxes is a solution for solving the free rider problems which government ostensibly solves. However, an important caveat must be drawn here. In the above example, which is abstracted down to the fewest possible variables for the purposes of illustration, it is quite easy for one to both rationally perceive the dilemma one faces and how it can be solved. This ability to solve the dilemma through knowledge should not be assumed to be analogous in the implementation of collective action solutions; I quite purposefully introduced the notion of evolution in the equilibrium of individual games faced by these groups in order to draw out the fact that under the conditions of a particular game, evolution will solve to that implementation which is within reach. The group equilibrium can be obtained above without any conscious or purposefully intended implementation of a tit-for-tat, reputational strategy. Likewise, the actual implementations of social norms for the purpose of solving collective action problems have evolved largely void of purposeful intent. The theoretical problem of, say, maintaining armies is distinct from the historical and materially observable processes which were crucial for the practical solution of maintaining armies. Establishing a government in order to maintain an army is theory; the processes which allowed this to actually take place, and what allowed for certain governmental and social forms to proliferate over time was just blind evolution at work.

If I may with an apparent digression: how do you build a pencil from scratch? A pencil is, of course, a relatively simple tool for us to understand, but grasping the complexity of the practical task of constructing a pencil is many magnitudes behind any theory which could be reasonably elaborated. The first thing that is required is the materials; wood, graphite, rubber, and aluminum. But, the readiness and availability of these materials for repurposing together as a pencil is far too costly to go about producing these materials only for the purpose of constructing a pencil. In order to get the wood it must be cut down, in order to get the graphite it must be processed from a number of distinct products, likewise with the rubber and aluminum. The original reason for each of these products being available was in order to suit a directly relevant need which could be satisfied by the first-order pursuit of these materials. When someone was harvesting lumber, or producing graphite, or whatever, they were doing it in most cases because there was some directly perceived profit, not because they had in mind a pencil. It was the conditions of the availability of these items that led to the construction of a pencil; thus, we may observe that the complexity of practice is, after accounting for the processes which reasonably allow one to have access to the materials necessary for the production of some particular construct and the resultant repurposing of these materials. The theory of a pencil is extremely simple compared to the actual practice; but once a tool is successfully constructed once, the design may be distributed relatively costlessly, and thus do pencils enter society and become one of other tools and materials which may be repurposed to other uses over time.

I would propose the theory and practice of political philosophy face a similar divergence. The theory of political philosophy, which has for the last 500 years centered on the “social contract’’ model of spontaneous order through a conceptual individual’s analysis of the collective action problem facing society, puts to obscurity the actual practice. Given the utter absence of any possibility of an actual social contract, basing models of practice after conceptual practices which are impossible in theory unsurprisingly leads to a divergence between understanding and what is experienced. Ignoring that, in the sociological sense at least, every government was formed on through the original action of a few would-be sovereigns and any collective action problems a government happened to provide for and thus to secure the survival of its host society was a repurposing of that group. No government was formed in order to make sure roads would be built. The original construction of roads was because there happened to be a coincidental alignment of first-order and second-order profit in doing so; the first-order being that of, for instance, collecting tolls, the second-order being that it benefits your society by enabling more geographically diverse forms of cooperation. This being seemingly obvious, it cannot be forgotten that what leads us to suppose roads are the function of government is a traditional form of argumentation. Originally, no group was centralized enough to afford to build roads in the first-order sense, but once the first-order profit was possible, this instilled the second-order benefits which entailed the survival of those groups which best utilized roads. (Any controversy over the necessity of government building roads I leave aside for now.)

The crucial feedback loops necessary to the prosperity of a society is dependent on the alignment of first-order and second-order collective action solutions. Punishing defectors offers a first-order equilibrium, but punishing those who won’t punish defectors offers a second-order, and stronger, equilibrium. However, the knowledge of punishing those who won’t punish defectors is not necessarily so obvious as the knowledge that defectors should be punished, for it entails a level of abstraction which separates the event of punishment from its result, and is thus that much more difficult to defend. This is where most people get tripped up by too readily identifying some practice or social norm as oppressive. We are very good at identifying first-order feedback loops, but not very good at identifying the second-order, meaning we tend to lose sight of the second-order benefits a practice has which on the first-order analysis has a negative game theoretic equilibrium.

Groping Elephants and Unifying Theories

The story of the blind men, each coming into contact with separate parts of the elephant, and coming to different conclusions as to what the creature in question is a fable best understood as epistemology. Of course, each is individually wrong, yet not without being misled in ways which are, from our vantage point of the theory of an elephant in mind, reasonable and not without merit. I have no doubt that were a trunk my only point of reference, I might mistake it for a snake, or the rough, sturdy legs for a tree. However, with the individual perspectives of the blind men taken as a whole, what emerges is that each is aware of a part of which they do not perceive the whole.

Sometimes this story is misused to suggest that others’ perspectives are equally valid even if they differ from our own, ergo peacelovetolerance or something like that. The true moral of the story is, of course, that competing perspectives are sometimes not incompatible, but are perceptions of an otherwise unperceived whole. This is the same process at work in science; collections of observations are collated, a discipline attempts to provide a theoretical framework for explaining these observations, and eventually with luck someone will come along who understands, or at least grasps, the fundamental postulates of what each discipline is grasping at and can provide a single, elegant unifying theory. Where before there were an abundance of explanations proportional to the abundance of observations, suddenly all the observations can be placed into an ideal perspective once the whole, or at least something more nearly resembling a whole, is brought to attention and shown.

Newton did exactly this with his theories of physics. Of course, before Newton all the available data was not only obtainable, it tended to be known by nearly everyone who happened to engage with everyday life. The motion of the planets and the moon, the relationship between angle and velocity for determining where an arrow shall fly, and the falling of an apple was well-known and theories abounded which worked well enough to allow for accurate prediction. Some of the theories may have been implicit, in the sense that a skilled archer is not performing calculus in his head when aiming his shot, and some were explicated as models which accurately predicted such astronomic phenomena as eclipses of the moon. What Newton introduced was a unifying theory; he developed calculus in order to describe the action of objects in motion, especially those affected by gravity. He further postulated that the motion of an apple falling to the ground and the revolution of the moon were actually the same kind of behavior, proven through the ability of his formulas to describe both phenomena. His few simple principles of physics were robust enough to allow virtually every material phenomena observable to our eyes to be described with sufficient rigor that their future action could be predicted. What Newton ultimately did was propose, where many others were grasping at parts and proposing distinct explanations to what they perceived, that what each was perceiving was but part of the whole. Astronomers and archers, among many others who would’ve been familiar with the motion of falling objects, were both acquainted with but a part and did not realize their individual perspectives made the most sense from the vantage point.

To biology, Darwin accomplished essentially the same effect. Where you had a fossil record which indicated that many creatures once dwelt on the earth that no longer do, variation in species which included greater and lesser levels of similarity, sexual generation, and the knowledge that children had a tendency to be like their parents, the theory of evolutionary descent unified all these observations while simultaneously pointing the study of these parts in the right direction. It is truly staggering the unity evolutionary theory brings to the biological sciences.

At present, there is a paradigm shift taking place in the social sciences. The standard social scientific model, which presumes psychological sameness between human beings, is in truly dire straits, and is being forced to produce epicycle upon epicycle to explain away apparent contradictions. However, there are a number of thinkers working at the frontiers of social science, obviously where the institutionalized and domesticated progthinkers do not dwell, who are beginning to put together a unified theory of human society. The introduction of mathematical models from ecology for describing the growth, and decline, of human populations, the application of economics and game theory for explaining what social phenomena we perceive, and even the simple acknowledgement that humans are evolved animals and thus subject to the same inferences any other evolved species would be are grounding new insights into the phenomenon of civilization.

Given the present status of the social sciences, it is fair to contend that nearly every field is like a blind man, saying the part they are acquainted with means one thing, without realizing they are grasping only part of the whole. Economics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, even medicine are stuck in what is the equivalent of a geocentric model—but at least the geocentric models back in the day could provide accurate predictions, while the present standard model implicit of every discipline of the social sciences is continuously, relentlessly, ceaselessly, perpetually, unendingly falsified.

But of course it must be pointed out that the social sciences are not, in their present form, per se about science in the first place. Their primary purpose is to extol the praises of Progress and bash conservatives over the head with Science! because science is the lingua franca of knowledge, and you’re ignorant if you’d doubt what you read in the New York Times.

You Are a Bipedal Ape

Any explanation for human society that does not ultimately cohere to the kind of explanation you would find acceptable for explaining the conditions of the animal kingdom should be rejected out of hand, since it must necessarily void the most important and salient fact of the human condition; you are a bipedal ape. You know a few neat tricks which evolved into the human species through a hundred millennia of intraspecies conflict, and it is only several thousand generations which separate you from the hominid apes which are your ancestor. Nothing you do is ultimately qualitatively distinct from what you see animals doing. Instead of beating your chest like a gorilla would, you might engage in a loquacious disputation in order to assert your dominance over another trying to encroach on your territory, but the latter is different only by degree from the former.

The one neat trick that distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom is our unparalleled ability to cooperate. Our powers of cooperation were generated through a process of evolutionary means-end reversal; initially, all species were individual and solitary, but given the benefits of cooperation in game theoretic scenarios and the abundance of games that one plays in the animal kingdom, it was inevitable that some species would hack that ability to cooperate. The initial cooperation of our primordial ancestors eventually evolved to better capable forms of cooperation through the pressure placed on cooperation through intraspecies competition; after all, what could place greater pressures on the evolution of your species than that species which may best dominate the environment? This led to the development of language in order to better propagate social forms of knowing, enabling cooperation better directed to acknowledged and understood problems of material scarcity.

The human forms of behavior can and should be understood through the exact same analysis that one would make of other animal species. That simple shift in our ability and willingness to cooperate with others of our species opens many forms of environmental domination and subjugation not otherwise open to other species, but this is yet a consequence of our animal form and must be understood in relation to that. Call it misanthropology if you will: the study of humans as animals. The utility of such a perspective is no deviation from explanation by getting sidetracked on what you think should happen, and a mere observation of what does actually take place, the view you would take were you observing a struggling pack of wolves. You are permitted the ability to dispassionately point to those social forms would allow the production of solutions to the implicit collective action problems faced by the wolves. We are no different in this way, and collective action problems are the greatest problems humans face; mastering the control of matter is an easy feat next to the mastery of society.

The way which the individual learns is no different from that of pigeons and rats. We learn language, how to interact with people, how to do math, how to drive a car, and so on simply through positive and negative reinforcement, and tend to adapt reflexive behaviors which define our personality subconsciously as we find the strategies entailed by these reflexive behaviors are helpful for getting us what we want. Though we may have the ability to oversee our own learning process and so define for ourselves our conditions of learning, permitting second-order reinforcement of our learning is just another hack of our ability to cooperate. We learn instinctively, the majority of the channels of information which we receive are themselves social; what allows an individual of a species to become so radically dependent on his society for survival? Group selection entails that the success of an individual’s genes in being propagated is strongly tied to the success of that group, which entails ever greater orientation of the individual towards the group until the majority of the information he needs to concern himself with is social in content, and thus by necessity will be delivered through social means, which places the individual’s ability to verify several steps beyond him. Even the individual is dependent upon his society for knowledge, and the soundness with which that society distributes information is crucial to the soundness of that individual’s knowledge. Given knowledge is a prerequisite of more knowledge, it is only through the application of knowledge that structures of knowledge production may be checked and verified for their actual effectiveness in producing knowledge, leaving the individual in a knotty problem when he must determine which sources of knowledge really have a ‘’best fit’’ with the world. Indeed, the problem is so far beyond the individual that there is essentially nothing the individual can do to readily grasp the problems of society, which is why while we may have developed a rather keen sense of social sense for interaction at the interpersonal level, this knowledge of society at the interpersonal level does not scale; neither our language nor our forms knowing at the interpersonal level are apt to discussing society in the abstract, i.e. in terms of social causality which occur outside our direct acquaintance, and perceiving how the nature of individual relationships coheres within a system of relationships and the conditions under which they are formed.

Realizing you are a bipedal ape is key to understanding how little you really understand of how society works. What do you know that you do not know either through direct experience or through someone else telling you something? How well are you able to verify anything you are told? Even our standard of verifying our own knowledge tends to be heavily reliant on social conditions, e.g. able to be communicated to another. Knowledge is social, is constructed by society, and inasmuch as the individual is unable to check the mechanisms of social knowledge formation he is unable to check the content of his own knowledge for soundness and consistency.

Language is Propaganda

The human species is unique in the animal kingdom in that there is a greater variation between its individual members than any other species. There is a greater distance between the stupidest and the smartest human than there is for any other species, and likewise there is a greater variation of psychological types among humans. You can scarcely predicate an ”average’’ human psychology without obscuring how very few approximate this average. Some humans are pathologically pacifistic while others are pathologically violent; some experience powerful negative emotions at the slightest perceived slight while others have not even an acquaintance of emotions of any form; some dedicate their lives to a superiority of mental prowess while others experience no greater aspiration than to watch TV all day; some are extremely uncomfortable in everyday social situations while some are extremely uncomfortable being anything but the center of attention. To imagine for a moment that all these people with incredibly distinct genotypic psychologies (i.e. the brain is very, very complex, and it would be beyond belief to suppose everyone’s brain is within even a magnitude of resembling each other’s) can be made into the same kinds of people just by giving them the same kinds of environment to mature in is indescribably delusional.

Yet the idea that people are really about the same psychologically has been the foundational premise of political philosophy, and by extension governance, for roughly 500 years. Luther made the quite (deliberately, one suspects) awful assumption only provided one looks at the Bible for himself, he will come to the same conclusions as he. Indeed, his assumption is so blatantly and obviously false that within his own lifetime he found himself befuddled at the fact that every crackpot was peddling his own peculiar interpretation of the Scriptures, producing the chaotic ecclesiological nihilistic mess grouped together as Protestantism. It is worth noting, of course, that grouping all these competing interpretations together as though they resemble anything like coherency, cohesiveness, or order is much the same as referring to the resultant entropy of a nuclear bomb as an explosion. Metaphysically speaking, an explosion is not some substantial being, but denotes precisely the local absence of any such order. Of course, it was very convenient to overlook the falsity of anything resembling Scriptural perspicacity if you were a German prince or relatively high verbal IQ kind of person who wanted to carve out his own little territory, and so Protestantism continued to maintain the pretense of order for at least a few centuries (even modern Protestants remain under the delusion that they are united by anything but the symbols of words like Jesus, God, Trinity, and a few other touchstones which give the illusion of cohesion) before the inertia eventually saw it convenient to dispose of those last vestiges, even while maintaining that egalitarian spirit.

In that respect, all the Enlightenment really did was formulate a philosophical expression of that original spirit, which saw autonomy and liberty made the priority of political philosophy. Kant boasts in a triumphant tone that the Enlightenment is just the individual throwing off the scales of dogma put there by clerics, and seeking to understand for himself, repeating Luther’s error with the supposition that only provided one looks at the world for himself, he will come to the same conclusions as he. We find the continual repetition of this error down to the modern day. In Britain we see that this dogma is clearly false; multiculturalism postulates the error of the individualism at the social scale, tell us only provided the same circumstances as us whites, they will see the wisdom and superiority of our ways. That experiment is, at least to clear minded conservatives less concerned with appearing politically correct than being men of reason, a disastrous failure.

Why this prejudice for supposing everyone has the same inclination to reason as oneself? I suppose it is not a very difficult mistake to make, especially as it appeals to one’s sense of superiority. ‘’I am smarter and better than my ancestors; I am educated and I espouse moral Progress.’’ Myself, I will admit no greater amount of knowledge than my ancestors, it is only a difference in what I have focused my gaze upon. I will not feign any pretense that others will see things my way (hence my fascination with language, but that is a digression), no matter what they happen to see. What one sees is bound inextricably to his hermeneutic, and his hermeneutic is in turn the result of innate and external processes interacting with each other. We do not start from the same place, as we have different brains, and thus what we will tend to see, and how we will see it with reference to other phenomena, shall always be distinct. There are times when the difference is subject to empirical verification, and these instances should be prized as the moments for when we might be able to reason with each other, but of course that ability to reason with each other presupposes certain intersubjectively agreed notions about how argumentative discourse should take place. If I value elegance in my theories, and my opponent cannot even articulate the concept of elegance, how am I to demonstrate that my descriptions are a better fit with the world? If I perceive a postulate in my opponent’s idea which is subject to potential empirical falsification, but my opponent sees the very suggestion of empirically testing that postulate as morally perverse, how are we to even reason with each other? We are worlds apart; what I think I mean by my words (and I think very carefully about what I say with reference to how others appear to use their words, so that I may better speak to the particularities of others’ private aspects of language) and what my reader understands by them is unable to be confirmed except through shared practice. But the realm of ideology is highly abstract, and rarely are there object level cases where our private (by which I mean, the privateness of our language inasmuch as our understanding is not mutually shared with another, which may be term its publicness) opinions may be confirmed to be in alignment.

Ferguson. The leftist sees social protest, the rightist sees disorder. The former is to be applauded and encouraged, the latter to be suppressed. Both terms describe quite literally exactly the same phenomena (i.e. those events which have taken place in Ferguson associated with the shooting of Michael Brown), but though describing the same fact, what is intended is not a description but a prescription. This is why leftists are resilient to admitting that a riot is disorder, and prefer the term of art ‘’social protest.’’ Neither use of language is value-neutral insofar as it concerns potentially prescribed action, which is to say language is inherently propagandistic. This propagandistic nature of language is understood implicitly by leftists when they forbid mentioning what are mere facts, such as how virtually all the cases of systemic rape and abuse of underage girls were perpetrated by Muslim men of mostly Pakistani descent. These are just facts, but the leftist realizes that admitting these facts might produce the possibility of collating these facts with others which produces a decidedly negative perspective on multiculturalism and, by extension, the wider egalitarian project of Progressivism. The willingness to admit to certain unpopular facts has always posed a danger to societies founded on false principles; the truth as such is tantamount to terrorism.

Ironically, leftists are quite reactionary when it comes to acknowledging what facts must be suppressed or, if they can’t be suppressed, how to explain them away and ostracize anyone who has the dangerous idea to think for himself and form his own conclusions, the leftist narrative be damned. If black-on-white crime were to receive the same amount of coverage per incident as white-on-black (or at least that look sufficiently like a) crime, and given the continual ruckus raised over the death of one black man, if you know your facts then, well, I’ll let you infer as you see my point. But of course, to give equal coverage to black-on-white crime would be racist because people might form the inference that black people are more inclined to violence. Facts are, to the leftist worldview, dangerous.

The people, considered as a vast morass who know little to nothing besides what is revealed to them through the news and mainstream outlets of information, compounded by the ignorance of the journalists themselves, know next to nothing about the world outside that which they are immediately acquainted. The average person cannot give a sound definition of money, they cannot tell you the first thing about the history of Russia, they couldn’t explain the general reasons for why people are in poverty, so on and so forth. If you’re wondering whether you can manipulate them just by the selective admission (and omission) of facts, it’s easier than not. The leftists’ want to label any concern with facts concerning racial statistics as evidence of racism is the proof, and likewise an apt demonstration that the channels of information they control (media and education in particular) are intended, by giving them the facts and theories which are officially approved, to forever atrophy the possibility of thinking outside the religious eschatology of Progress. And frequently, they succeed in doing exactly that.

Weaponizing Orthodoxy

Imagine you’re a relatively successful, up-and-coming businessman in a practically theocratic country. The official religion of the state is Catholicism, and while it isn’t illegal to confess and practice other religions, you are only able to rise to positions of wealth and influence if you are Catholic, with individuals of other sects, whether Jewish or Islamic, being effectively barred from these positions of elite status. Thankfully, you experience no cognitive dissonance in professing and practicing Catholicism; indeed, you even earnestly believe it, and though you admit you are in no way pious, you are unlikely to be put into a situation where your ability to profess Catholicism brings about cognitive dissonance or, worse, you feel compelled to state views which dissent from the ruling orthodoxy. Moreover, you have noticed many other aspirational elites are not so orthodox.

You stand to gain a lot if orthodoxy were to be weaponized.

Many “Catholic” individuals from recently converted families, now being officially Catholic and thus having no legal barriers preventing their rise to elite positions of wealth and influence, are indeed rising in the ranks. In fact, a number of these individuals, Catholics of Jewish families which converted only some decades ago, pose a danger to your future status as a de facto élite by encroaching on your territory. Less do you fear losing your wealth (you have already made more than enough for your family in material terms) and more do you fear being edged out by your competition for that elite status. It occurs to you there is some likelihood your competition, particularly those of convert families, are Catholic in name only, and if it could be proven they weren’t truly Catholic, they would lose their positions and not be able to aim for the elite status you so covet.

It would be really convenient if these fake Catholics could be uncovered, humiliated, and thrown out of respectable society, giving you an advantage in your aspiration to join the elite. If only there were, I don’t know, an inquisition.

In no way is this scenario limited to Catholicism. Every culture has some kind of ideological or religious orthodoxy, which it maintains with greater and lesser stringency. Typically, orthodoxy is less of a concern by and for those of the ruled classes, who are either incapable or have no care to attain elite (ruling, either through actual or ostensibly participatory) status. Likewise, the difficulty of obtaining and maintaining elite status varies. A society experiencing population growth has more positions of elite status that will need to be filled, and so a larger proportion of those with elite aspirations are able to obtain that status through hard work and some superficial appearance of aptitude, no matter their class or family background. Of course, the means of obtaining elite status are varied and heterogeneous, and those with elite aspirations will aim for those positions of status as befits their own capabilities and the kind of person they wish to be perceived as. However, it is worth noting that the kinds of personal aptitudes which allow one to rise within the ranks of that given realm are not necessarily, in fact very infrequently, correlated to the ostensible end of those arenas. Personal success in business depends on a ruthless careerism, relentless calculation, and sometimes a little luck (it is impossible to know beforehand the success of a product, though, like poker, knowing how to play the odds will tend to make you a winner in the long run). Personal success in politics is… actually, I won’t pretend there is a rational process, and I’m certain most of it is ultimately decided by out-of-sight demagogues, business interests, and a few K Street powerbrokers, processes which aren’t usually available for observation, so I won’t feign hypotheses here (although we can still be certain personal success has little to do with soundness of policy). Finally, and what I will be focusing on here (especially since it is more relevant in the modern day than it would’ve been in 15th century Spain), personal success in academia is determined by the ability to best espouse and forward the reigning orthodoxy, which in this case is that of the universalist, humanitarian, Progressive ideology.

Progressive ideology is for all intents and purposes a religion, though we may note that, unlike establishment religions like Catholicism and Islam(s), there are no definitive dogmas, creeds, or gods. It is the cladistic inheritor of the underlying etiologies of Protestantism, which is highly egalitarian (read the Scriptures and see for yourself, they say, presuming everyone is the same and will see the same thing) and had its philosophical expression become first clearly stated during the Enlightenment. However, given the lack of reliance on authority and definition (a piece of social technology the Catholic Church has, due to its monopoly on the Schelling point of revelation in Christ and maintained through the material proof that is Apostolic Succession), orthodoxy is a moving target; while it will always be the provenance of the era’s philosophical élite to define the zeitgeist’s orthodoxy, advancement in the ranks of academia tends to come about by refining and forwarding the previously established dogmas. Unlike Catholicism, this arena of philosophical refinement of orthodoxy may move continuously in some given direction. Whereas the Catholic spirit was inextricably bound to certain theological definitions, and so the relative shape of a Catholic culture is fixed, at least with respect to what the legal and social norms are intended to aim at producing (e.g. sexuality and romance as proper to matrimony, rather than matrimony proper to sexuality and romance as in our own culture), a crucial aspect of the spirit of Progress is its own inertia. Quite literally, change for the sake of change is written into the defining zeitgeist; never mind this produces inevitable contradictions, for the contradictions themselves are intended, in a crudely dialectical sense if you will, all along in producing that ultimate utopia which is the fixed eschatology of a materialist metaphysics which renounces the possibility of an afterlife that will enact cosmic justice.

Given this frame, the superiority of Catholicism as a social technology is clear and obvious.* That monopoly on definition of doctrines is made possible by Apostolic Succession which gives a material link to the deposit of faith, i.e. its definitive Schelling point and etiology. Progress-qua-religion resembles something nearer Hinduism (the fact that suggesting Hinduism is an inferior form of religion compared to Catholicism is so deliciously politically incorrect it almost seems to prove my point by itself); you have a vast array of deities you can profess your faith to, with an almost limitless form of practices by which you can serve that deity. You have feminism, environmentalism, altruism, social justice, democracy, etc, whatever suits your religious fancy, each with their own evolving and prescribed forms of sacrifice. The inferiority of Progress notwithstanding, it has consolidated itself as the de facto orthodoxy of the elites. Note that those who are incapable of or have no aspiration to elite status have little to fear from straying from this orthodoxy. Apostasy and heresy abounds among the lower classes, and as ever this lack of piety leads to derision by the upper classes and lack of sympathy for their plight.

*I do not mean whatsoever, as some more vulgar interpreters might read me as saying, to imply that Catholicism can or should be analyzed merely in the reductive terms of social technology without a concern for its truth; I yet maintain that she is a divinely inspired institution, and that the truth of the revelation it safeguards is the foundation and purpose of its socially technological superiority (which is not to say it isn’t presently experiencing a kind of dark age). I am, insofar as we consider this relevant to Catholic theology, suggesting a development of her social doctrines and the role the Church must play in society from the perspective of natural theology.

Of course there is the official sympathy for certain lower classes prescribed by Progress, but beyond this official sympathy there is essentially no concern to police the actions of these certain lower classes. Indeed, this official sympathy results in turning a blind eye to the anti-social proclivities of these lower classes, for acknowledging the anti-social proclivities of these classes would falsify the Progressive eschatology which ordains a post-racial, post-class, post-inequality utopia. To acknowledge that these classes may just be actually incapable of living in that utopia (unlike the insulated elites, which we call Brahmins) is tantamount to heresy; it is like saying the earth revolves around the sun and our knowledge of our divine purpose proven by occupying the center of the universe is, well, simply false. (Hence the blank slate narrative. It must be believed, and not made subject to empirical inquiry, that these populations can be formed into white people by simply providing them the environment white people happen to occupy.)

In the last 150 years we have experienced an unprecedented growth of population. This has meant an abundance of positions for the elites to occupy (look at the explosion of administrative positions in universities, many of them expressly dedicated to the vision of Progress), and in turn the consolidation of Progressive orthodoxy. Catholics have Aquinas, proggies have Rawls. However, the growth of material productivity did not continue apace with population growth, and we have likely reached a period of stagnation brought about by simply hitting the Malthusian ceiling. This means that the number of positions of elite status will not grow any longer, and the proportion of aspirational elites who will actually be promoted to their ranks will fall. This means that personal success in academia, politics, and increasingly business, will require more ingenuity and participating in fewer positive-sum games, since there are just fewer positive-sum games to play; the rewards to cooperation are slimmer, and the rewards to a hawk strategy greater. Anything within reach to forward one’s own success and fight off competition will become more important. Intraelite competition will reach a fevered pitch.

So, imagine you’re a relatively successful, up-and-coming businessman in a practically theocratic country. The officially unofficial religion of the state is Progress, and while it isn’t illegal to confess and practice other religions, you are only able to rise to positions of wealth and influence if you are Progressive, with individuals of other sects, whether Catholic or Mormon, being effectively barred from these positions of elite status. Thankfully, you experience no cognitive dissonance in professing and practicing Progressivism; indeed, you even earnestly believe it, and though you admit you are in no way pious, you are unlikely to be put into a situation where your ability to profess Progressivism brings about cognitive dissonance or, worse, you feel compelled to state views which dissent from the ruling orthodoxy. Moreover, you have noticed many other aspirational elites are not so orthodox.

You stand to gain a lot if orthodoxy were weaponized.

Form Irrationalism

One of the most reliable conceits of human inquiry is the supposition that, at some point, we shall inevitably exhaust all there is to know; every possible form, every possible law to describe the interaction of those forms, and thus finally (excusing the recursive incompleteness of predicting one’s own future predictions) producing a grand, unified theory of everything. At present, that tendency has been most reliably expressed in physics, with the attempt to postulate Elementary Laws of Matter which, assuming everything is ultimately just the interaction of the elementary particles (or strings or waves or things or, whatever, exactly, ‘particle’ is itself an artifact of former physical theories, ahem), will allow us to explain everything constituted by these… elemental things as just the action of these elemental things.

Physics is only one example of this prejudice towards a notion of “knowledge completeness” (which, I note, cannot even be completely [and yes I mean that in the logical sense] defined). The same exact prejudice crops up in “theories of history” such as Fukuyama’s (in the most vulgar interpretation, but to be frank it’s hard to make it much more vulgar than it is actually presented) or Jared Diamond’s. Both presuppose a continuous and upwards ascent towards social forms which shall be simultaneously “freer,” “equaler,” “peacier,” “wealthier,” “liberallier,” so on and so forth for any buzzword which gives the progressive homunculus a boner. The narrative of Progress becomes its own etiology, indeed a full-fledged eschatology which fills that individual need to believe that his actions contribute to something greater than himself; it is the same need which the idea of an afterlife used to fulfill, only now it is displaced by an even more altruistic version in which it is supposed that our children (well, other people’s children, progressive wombs are conspicuously barren) shall inherit a utopia free from conflict, war, prejudice, crime, poverty, whatever else shall be eventually considered an intrinsic vice which condemns the totality of a society lest it devote all available resources to those problems.

This utopian eschatology is such a fixture of the individual Progressive’s weltanschauung that, to adopt the crude propagandistic narrative concerning the conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church, for want of a particular cosmological model that just seems to fit the religious sense better, any models which deviate from that divinely mandated anthropocentrism shall not only be purposefully overlooked, but any who wish to adopt that dissident model for their inquiries shall be considered heretics liable to be burnt at the stake. All that has changed is, in place of the Catholic Church, you have the ideologically vested interests of the Cathedral which promotes a utopian eschatology. To propose a historical model, particularly one which is but the extension of biological disciplines such as ecology, of human civilization which doesn’t neatly fit that equalicentrism is not only to invite ready refutation by the intellectual-journalistic elite, but professional embarrassment and career-ending scorn. But this is less a point about Progressive ideology (though it is no less important to see this point all the same) and more an illustration of how the prejudice towards “completed” bodies of doctrines skews social bodies away from perpetual disillusionment and nearer an inflexible, rigid orthodoxy.

In complete contrast to this prejudice for exhaustive knowledge, I propose that there would be nothing more disastrous than “completing knowledge.” To find and define an end of knowledge is to find and define the end of civilization. Whatever potential forms there may be in the world, they will be ultimately circumscribed by a limited space with limited potentials for the material therein. Assuming even the rosiest model of human ascent over the mastery of Nature and the entire universe, pressing up against the sheer limits of Nature entails the grandest and most wicked of Malthusian traps. Likewise, discovering that our universe is of a finite nature, with laws which perfectly describe all potential interaction, would probably be the clearest and most decisive proof that we inhabit a mere simulation.

What is a “law of Nature?” Put most accurately, it is a heuristical description of the tendency of some body’s way of acting. That any law is a heuristic, implying that it faces limits and, by extension, conditions under which that law fails to describe the particular body’s action, is at once intuitive and controversial. It is intuitive in the sense that the phenomena we tend to be aware of, and the cycles by which we are able to process the activity thereof, is always finite, and with additional information may need to be further calibrated. Consider Newton’s law of gravitation, which as a heuristic works perfectly well for describing the action of bodies within a reasonably human scale of reference; indeed, the unifying of the action of bodies on earth falling and the action of the sun, moon, and planets by a single description of the relation between motion, velocity, and mass is, until you realize no one had really ever supposed the activities of an apple and the moon might be described by a single law, quite an accomplishment. And, no less that being an accomplishment, the law is, at least if we take it as the attempt to describe the action of all potential gravitational bodies, false. But, as a heuristic subject to limits (which we are now, via Einsteinian physics, able to define), it is extremely useful. It is only at “extremes” (what counts as an extreme depends on your scale of reference, which tends towards the individual human’s) that we find these heuristics break down. To put that another way, if you zoom in or out then, at a sufficient distance, you will find the emergence of unique forms which the law could not have predicted. In other words, the universe exhibits, with respect to our place in the world, forms which are of an irrational nature.

The postulate of an elementary particle is just that, a postulate. It tends to be taken for granted that everything in the world is just the composition of simple forms, which is the fundamental expression of matter and below which no simpler form is possible. This is the atomism of Democritus, which saw a renaissance of approval with the social atomism latent in Calvinism (curious, these clusters of beliefs under a single ideology, but moving on), even leading to the naming of the simplest form of the elements arranged by Mendeleev into a systematic chart as “atoms!” But no sooner had the atom of Democritus been apparently discovered than had we moved on to speculating, attempting, and actually splitting the atom, releasing vast stores of energy as the smaller particles (electrons, neutrons, and protons) which composed the atomic form decomposed; in turn, those simpler particles were themselves eventually smashed together at extreme speeds (i.e. outside previously observable scales of reference) which provoked them to decompose into even simpler forms. There is nothing in principle which precludes the possibility that there simply is no simplest form, and given sufficient power to exercise observation at suitably extreme conditions, one would continue to witness ever smaller unique forms, forms which, and this is my point, cannot be predicted by theories describing the activity of the forms which those simpler forms compose. In other words, forms exhibit irrationality.

And this not only in the physical sense. For sufficiently long periods of time, for sufficiently large masses, for sufficiently high-energy conditions, so on and so forth, wherever a new extreme is reached what laws proved themselves apt to describing and predicting the behavior of forms at that scale of reference shall be limited and useless for describing the activity of forms outside their particular scale of reference. Notice that in no sense is this an argument which depends upon going further down. Even our laws which portend to describe the activity of atomic and sub-atomic particles (and waves, strings, and things) cannot be suitably scaled up; our physicists fudge on proposing how our ability to describe very small things coheres with our ability to describe very large things. Apparently, the random activity of sub-atomic particles simply “averages out” when it comes to the apparent stillness and predictability of forms at the human scale, but even the stillness and predictability of forms at the human scale doesn’t appear to have any predictive power over the activity of things many magnitudes larger.

Our language is simply limited to what we are (personally, everyday lived experience) acquainted with. Keeping this in mind when we formulate descriptions of causal interactivity of large scale entities we in no way have a consummate or remotely complete acquaintance with (e.g. societies) is of crucial importance, and the failure to account for this seems the most frequent error of the Enlightenment. The presupposition that our reason is Reason, that we are able to model, simulate, and subsequently regulate anything we happen to give a name is intellectual hubris. Knowledge begins, and ends, with elaborating on the breadth of our ignorance about anything other than what we know, i.e. conclusions produced from reliable knowledge-forming processes, these always being a mechanism which operates from directly lived experience.

Every Man a Philosopher-King (and Other Delusions)

I’ve made some initial inroads on a new book. The purpose of this book shall be to present, if not a “more accessible” version of neoreactionary insights, at the very least an argument structure which appeals to the background of a classical education. It shall delve into the metaphysical underpinnings of describing and producing social order especially, and explore, apart from the egalitarian assumptions of the Enlightenment, the values which a society could potentially, and perhaps should, attempt to maximize.

One of the questions which the book shall attempt to answer is what constitutes the concern of political philosophy. Modern political philosophy, with its emphasis on individual rights and lack of recognition of the primacy of society over the individual, might be considered a failed endeavor to extend the egalitarian assumptions first explicated in Protestantism and undergirding the ideas of “canonical” political philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and so on.

As such, I’ve decided to take a two week break from writing here and also my Twitter in order to incentivize myself to get to writing this book. I intend to give frequent updates to my Patreon donors (and I can promise you’ll be in dignified company) as I produce drafts for the book (hint hint), but I will return here at this domain to elaborate more on my crazy theories about language use and social theory, so have no fear. In the meanwhile, below is a small preview which hopefully illustrates the overall theme of the book.

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Political philosophy has an acutely weird fascination with individual rights. It would appear that the idea of “rights” owed to an individual by some society has taken on an increasingly narrow yet overpowering attention in the discourse of politia. Politia is, of course, but the study of order in society. Given there are a wide plurality of rights concepts, indeed a wider plurality of political philosophies which owe no use to rights, the centrality of rights in the cultural milieu, whether that be the popular culture as exemplified by MSNBC and Huffington Post or academia is something which demands an explanation. The individual is not obviously the central focus of political philosophy; if we are concerned with the order of society per se, then the individual plays a subsidiary role to the whole. What, then, to explain the dominant role of the individual in modern political philosophy?

Even developing politia so that the individual takes on a less central role in our culture and institutions is a difficult task as one must first undermine the confidence and fixation on the individual. It tends to be taken for granted that of course political philosophy is about the individual, and of such an insidious form that this presumption is never accurately diagnosed and discussed for its own merit. What if it were the case that politia demands the benefits and comforts of the individual can only be an afterthought, mere luxuries afforded by fortune but certainly never to be expected as the norm? Such a view does seem to reflect the more everyday life philosophies of pre-Industrial societies, in which the norm was toil or die. Our expectation of luxury for the individual, of making society be about “living standards” and “social justice” is entirely contingent on the ability of society to continue producing at an abundance which is an extreme deviation from the historical norm, a deviation which lines of reasoning from Darwin, Malthus, and Galton suggests we shouldn’t expect to stay with us. Is a political philosophy that is blind to the material constraints of scarcity, the difficulty of cultural cohesion and cooperation, and the task of civilization even properly a political philosophy at all?

This is a dangerous question, as it suggests that the overwhelming majority of political philosophy that has been developed in the last century has been a complete waste. I wish I could be more generous, but when peruses the books and papers, the virtual entirety are concerned with what society owes the individual. The question of what the individual owes his society is completely foregone and overlooked. It might appear that the question of what the individual owes his society is discussed, but this only ever in the context of how that individual, as a part of society, owes other particular individuals. There is what men owe to women, what the rich owe to the poor, what whites owe to blacks, but these are always subsidiary questions to what women are owed, what the poor are owed, and what blacks are owed. There is no sense in which what is owed between individuals is treated as equivalent and, in the Aristotelian sense, equitable.

Justice, as Aristotle defines it, is equality. And what is equality? It is not treating individuals, regardless of their characteristics, whether innate or cultural, the same. Great ideas demand greater attention; why would this not be so for great men? Yet all political philosophy is concerned not with giving what greatness is owed, but what is owed to the least of us. The modern obsession with equality has not only failed to serve it equitably, but has completely inversed it. Why is this important? What does this mean for society? Our ideas of justice, of social order, and so on are principles by which we organize our social and legal norms, and those norms influence the behavior of individuals to the outcomes they have. The concepts cannot be explored and engaged in without a due reverence for the actual effects they have on society, including most especially how they lend to that society’s resiliency or fragility. Yet the abysmal ignorance and disdain shown by political philosophers for the most basic precepts of economics, sociology, psychology, biology, and tradition are the rule rather than the exception (and even within these fields, the dominant political philosophy has a tendency to inform rather than be informed).

What is the just ordering of society? What is the summun bonum of civilization? What is the good of the individual, within this context? These are questions we cannot explore without disregarding what we have been told we are supposed to be concerned about; we must disregard the poor, the weak, the feeble-minded. These are, after all, not the entirety of society, and it would be a disaster were they to become so. Would it be wrong to implement social forms which not only mitigate the evils associated with these groups, but would serve to prevent them from harming the overall fitness of society? If it were, must we allow the least among us to hold back the greatest, to ultimately veto the haphazard project of civilization and prevent progress, or worse?

What if a society of philosopher-kings were more than a silly fantasy, but a dangerous delusion? When one surveys the touted ideals and ostensible benefits of public education, the notion of a democracy dependent upon a society of individuals versed in liberal education repeatedly comes to the fore. There is this idea that everyone ought to be versed not only in the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but should also be able to adroitly engage with literature, politics, art, history, myth, religion, and the other hallmarks of a cultivated intellectual life. Why? It certainly isn’t because it’s been demonstrated that this is in any way possible, for the clear record of public education is that such a standard is impossible to attain. The backpedaling to “But oh if only it were better!..” is no helpful reply, as that has already been the guiding philosophy of socialization in the American West since the beginning of the 20th century. Perhaps it is time to shrug our shoulders and admit that the success of reality TV and junk food is a cultural deficit indicative of a biological deficit. We are willing to entertain the notion that some people just aren’t capable of quantum physics or high level mathematics, but such a notion suggests that many people also aren’t capable of the basics of the social sciences which would lend credence to the idea of a well-functioning democracy hand-in-hand with a universal education. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people are not cut out to be philosopher-kings, and extending them a level of privilege and responsibility apt to that status will destroy not only them, but all that civilization has accomplished up to this point in time.

The task of ordering society rightly cannot be accomplished without putting political philosophy back together. To do that, we shall have to begin at first principles in order to get at the notion of how anything is rightly ordered per se, so as to apply these general principles to the specific form which is society. So we shall suspend the question of society temporarily in order to explore the notion of order per se.

Memetic Decay

In my last post on linguistic rehabilitation, I coined the term memetic decay to refer to the phenomena of words declining in specificity as the barriers to using those words in a way which earns reward (e.g. most frequently, social integration, or the approval of one’s perceived peers) falls. In order to get at the concept of a word falling in specificity, and thus potentially declining to a point that it has no single good use in any potential discussion, we need to examine the varying virtues of function which a word might potentially fulfill.

It is more difficult for an object-level word, at least in it’s literal, or object-level use, to fall into a decline of specificity without the introduction of evolutionary changes in the objects meant to be specified. My favorite example, that of ‘coffee,’ presently has a clear object-level use, but upon further examination it is easy to see the potential for ambiguities to be introduced as new real world creations made by and associated with coffee beans are developed, in which case it is not that the word has declined in specificity for any change in the way the word is being used by a population, but simply that what it referred to changed. Coffee can potentially decompose into further subcategories such as dark, light, espresso, decaffeinated, black, and so on; for proof, just consider that if someone asks “What are you drinking?” there are situations where “Coffee,” is a suitable answer no matter whether it is a light or dark roast. On the other hand, there are also situations where it does matter, but the presence of these situations does not per se mean the word declines in specificity provided the way it is used by a population retains specificity across scenarios where the suitability of greater or lesser specificity in denoting some object is required. Concretely put, “coffee” is many situations the best use word, but there are also situations where it isn’t specific enough, and the best use of the word in a situation might be “espresso coffee” or “decaf coffee.” But as a general rule, we see that the more object-level oriented a word is, at least at some instantaneous moment of time and use, the less likely it is to fall in specificity simply by introducing the use of the word to more people. (Even people who are rabid non-coffee drinkers [God forbid, I know] don’t misuse the word  ‘coffee.’)

Nonetheless, we perceive that as concrete realities evolve, there is the potential for a word in its older use to lose specificity for a simple lack of tracking the change of that which it refers to. Another observation, then; the more a word is tied to concrete realities, then the more that concrete reality may change, the more the use of that word must change to reflect that changing reality if it is to retain the same level of usefulness in populations. Some sets of things have very little change over time (e.g. external human features), while some experience great change over time (e.g. scientific theories). If it helps to grok why the changing reality is such an important feature in the specificity of a word, suppose you were a time traveling Terminator trying to fit in with local time cultures which needed to have a dictionary of languages which would fit not only the use of English found in the year 1990, but also in 1940, 1840, and 2390. You would hate to use certain words in a way which might give away that you’re not a local (consider the word ‘nigger’ and the many different ramifications it could have contingent on place, group, and time).

Another feature, relevant to the rate of change of a word. There are certain communities in which a word’s use might change rapidly without losing specificity; these will tend to be communities which are able to produce a high ratio of instances of potentially verifiable use to the size of the population through whatever mechanisms of interpersonal exchange are available to it. A gang could enforce fast changing use of words if it were the case that being able to use enough exosemantic markers tied to that gang’s clique language was a determinant of membership. The same kind of mechanism is in place for professional communities of theoretical scientists; see how the physics community/ies maintains a highly specific use of words by requiring of its members the ability to routinely demonstrate an understanding of the group’s agreed use of words. Communities which lack such an enforcement mechanism will thus be subject to very few potentially verifiable uses of a word, and so the changing use of a word will exemplify a higher degree of inertia; that is, a higher rate of change entails continuing change even as attempts to “pin down” the use of a word go on, which only help to further the change of the word. This “conflict over use” is just like any other conflict over how some resource in the world shall be used, and as language is a resource, it is no exception to this. Conflict engenders conflict; “memetic de-escalation” requires the production of an imbalance of power so that there is lessened potential for profit through conflict (Moldbug’s Law of Power Asymmetry, in other words). This suggests a number of strategies one might pursue for producing those imbalances, but that is beyond the scope of this post.

An instance of potentially verifiable use, I note, is to be distinguished from mere instance of use, as those uses which are, situationally contingent, unable to be verified to have some more or less specific meaning. In my ‘coffee’ example the use is highly verifiable, as the process of verifying an agreed use of the word ‘coffee’ by myself and the barista can be accomplished through the very simple method of pointing and describing the qualities of coffee. Then there are words which are almost exclusively used in a context in which producing that verification is either impossible or precluded (e.g. try and get leftists to consistently define and use the word ‘racist’). Likewise, the strength of the individuals in a given attempt to develop verification depends upon the success of previous verifications, as previous successes illuminate heuristics for producing those conditions which bring the parties to verifiable instances, i.e. means of checking that they’re using the words in an agreed way. The more that is done to limit the potential for verification concerning the use of a word, the fewer instances of potentially verifiable use there will be and thus the specificity of a word suffers (see motte-and-bailey doctrine).

The above suggests a formula which we can use to measure the specificity of a word’s use. Where specificity is S, n is number of instances of potentially verifiable use, v is previous verifications, P is population, r is the rate of memetic change, and α is abstractness (higher value means more abstract), we have:

S = nv/log(P)rα

I’m making the assumption that population must increase by a magnitude to have an effect on specificity proportional to that of the other variables, but given this isn’t intended as a strictly quantified model, it is enough to see how these values have an effect on the overall specificity of a given word particular to a specific use. Greater specificity in this case entails a greater set of behaviors may be implied and agreed by the use of a word, while lower specificity entails greater ambiguity about behavior. Note that no single word, by itself, has a great amount of specificity, but through association with other terms in a given context, the overall specificity of a sentence can, even if the individual terms tend to have low specificity in other sentences, be exceedingly high.

Memetic decay can be achieved by anything which lowers n or v and increases P, r, and α. When, over time, the specificity of a word falls, we may say that it has been subject to memetic stresses which fell outside the scope of the mechanisms used by its previous population/s to enforce agreement and thus preserve specificity. Concretely, keep in mind that “populations” denote anything from “the population of a given country” to “the population that frequents this bar every Friday night.” In general, smaller populations can maintain stricter mechanisms, but larger populations, facing a greater severity of collective action problems concerning the use of words, may be unable to maintain those mechanisms and thus the specificity of the word falls over time, potentially becoming a word with a high memetic inertia and which fails to have any good use except insofar as it happens to be aligned to some verbally insignificant (but not necessarily existentially insignificant) sign.

This leaves us with two questions. What can be done to maximize specificity? If specificity is a normative value about the use of words intended to solve the collective action problem of clear communication for the purposes of interpersonal exchange, what are other normative values about the use of words? These are questions for future analysis.

Linguistic Rehabilitation

In order to rehabilitate a mind poisoned by years of indoctrination and all manner of excesses of memetic assault on critical thinking, a detoxifying process must be undertaken which seeks to analyze how the poison was originally administered in order to develop an anti-venom. This must also be predicated on an understanding of what would constitute useful instruction, rather than mere indoctrination. To get at this, we need a theory of linguistic development.

We learn to use language through conditioning; the correct utterance is articulated, a reward is provided in some way. The reward does not need to be material per se, and frequently isn’t. The most common reward is plain social integration, such as when parents give enthusiastic praise to their infant for pointing to their nose at the word ‘nose’ or when a teacher compliments a student for articulating some mathematical idea. In just the same way we learn how to use language to articulate positive ideas, we learn to express normative ideas in the same way, with reference to our most approximate moral authority being weighted over others, which tends to be parents, pastor, teacher, and whatever other figure a person is able to pick out for themselves. Whether because that person is bound by familial relation or is just “cool,” that person’s authority over the correct use of language for describing and prescribing the world influences that person’s development of linguistically articulated (is there any other?) normative theory.

There’s a catch to this model of language use, as it predicts the more complex and abstract a particular concept, and thus the less “concretely grounded” it happens to be, the easier it is to get away with bending the use of those words to suit demands not aligned with the way those words are used in technical, moral discussion. It is hard to misunderstand what we mean by concepts such as “coffee,” “sandwich,” and “game,” as anyone who fails to understand these concepts initially is presented with these exact instances in their everyday lived experience that their language use is bound to press up against that misuse, and their use shall be summarily corrected by those around them and he shall improve his social integration by adopting the use of that word which best suits his linguistic community’s needs (with respect to language, a kind of linguistic capitalization as it were). Dumb people can grasp “coffee” easily, but that does not mean they will grasp a concept which predicates a set of specific relations between sets of beings, such as “money.” (A dumb person will understand that the US dollar is money, since anyone will point that out to him, but he might not recognize that other scenarios which involve highly liquid goods traded on the basis of their value as a liquid good is to be imbued with a monetary property; he might trade cigarettes in prison without ever realizing that he’s participating in a monetary form of exchange.)

The opportunity to drum into people series of phrases which connote a particular and specific meaning which it would otherwise take a philosopher to unpack is extraordinary, and beyond that, impossible to not exploit. There’s little to no effective mechanisms in a teaching environment for providing the tools of ensuring that someone is actually getting a concept beyond their ability to parrot back words to a sufficiently understanding-like degree, and how could there be given there has essentially been no rigorous model of language and knowledge distribution which would allow such measurements to be performed. Again, the task of measuring someone’s understanding of “coffee” is easy, but how are you to measure their understanding of multidimensional, highly abstract concepts such as “honor” and “valor” which denote a range of actions contingent on their relation to environmental conditions (consider the use of a gun; there are many uses which aren’t honorable, and a few that are, but “using a gun” is not an essential feature of ‘honor’)? Likewise, there is the problem of coincidental knowledge verification; a teacher incapable of effectively measuring his student’s understanding (tests very crudely measure this, but they don’t select out this particular problem)(and this is essentially all teachers, by the way) is yet likely to leave the impression on a student capable of passing tests that the student in question has an understanding, especially since the teacher has told the student that passing the test equates to understanding (rather than being, at best, an approximate and inexact measure).

And so the number of individuals in society who sling around rhetorically powerful and deeply connotative words like “love,” “liberty,” and “rights” proliferates all while their use, no longer restricted to discussions with high barriers to entry which would otherwise secure those fields from memetic decay as the malinformed masses destroy the use of those words. Memetic decay is the process in which a word, originally having a highly specific and particularly well-understood meaning, becomes bogged down in uses which do not sufficiently distinguish their use, and the link between those concrete particulars which cash out abstract terms fade and disintegrate. In their place remains a kind of veneration which used to be proper to the sign but, in the mouths of misunderstanding heathens, that veneration is a kind of idolatry; a respect for a clarity the word used to retain which has been dimmed.

Disconnecting oneself from the use of these highly decayed words is the first step in intellectual rehabilitation, and requires seeing that not all uses of words is strictly straightforward and non-problematic. Note the way in which “rights” has, merely in the academic world, devolved into a series of distinctions between “positive rights,” “negative rights,” “women’s rights,” “universal rights,” “natural rights,” so on and so forth, ad infinitum. It might be fair to say that the way in which the theory of rights has splintered into so many competing theories that the theory is simply dead, persisting on only through the momentum of an institutionalized programme. Once you see that what the sign used to signify no longer holds, you lose that reverence for the sign, and begin to wonder at what other false idols have taken hold in your subconscious, controlling your thoughts by controlling how you are able to, correctly or not, categorize the world. (At the end of the day, normative theories are attempts to categorize the world and, while not strictly falsifiable in the minimal Popperian sense, we can still observe they are subject to better and worse standards of division for prescription, some of which are clearer and some of which aren’t in terms of relating the intended end of engaging in ethics [most moral ethicists do not even have this insight to their work; see the "thought experiment" of MacIntyre's After Virtue in which he postulates a community that no longer knows how scientific terms relate to their particular things in the world and, despite their continued use of those terms, the lack of causal feedback on informing the use of those terms leads to the development of increasingly elaborate, yet ultimately meaningless, systems of linguistic articulation that cannot link themselves to their supposed subject, in this case the materially observable].)

Your use of words has been trained by the inputs of experience. Suppose one were developing a new language; immediately one must concern themselves with whatever a person might like to discuss in that language. (This entails the possibility of limited languages, which describe very particular senses of order in the world as described by fundamental axioms, explicit or implicit, by which the internal cohesion of that language is conditioned. Note this doesn’t mean actually instantiated uses of that language will be correct, but it does point to those fundamental conditions which give the possibility of a cohesive language space with reference to a set of ordered phenomena. e.g. binary logic, Ruby, musical notation.) That language must allow one to articulate the things they are in contact with, for otherwise it would serve them no purpose. Likewise, inasmuch as the language originally conceived (and developed up to that point in time) which comes into contact with new phenomena, it must have a means for constructing terms to denote and place into a relation with previously understood and denoted phenomena. Language is living and adapts to its environment; as language is ultimately at the behest of human use, it must ultimately be subordinate to human ends, whether they are noble or merely selfish.

This engenders a kind of collective action problem for language. Initially, a “pristine language” might be developed which, as used by a particular community of individuals, has a very specific use and is never misused. Over time, as that term interacts with others, it may gain other connotational uses where it gets placed at Schelling points of substantial theoretical interaction, i.e. centers of theory, e.g. “rights,” “mass,” “software.” The term ‘rights’ is used far too frequently by individuals who have no means of knowing how the word might possibly relate to reality (and this not necessarily by their own fault, but simply because of the collective action problems involved) or what purpose it serves, and so you find an explosion of people who hoist it high for its previous value as a Schelling point in uniting theories of social prescription but in doing so detract from its use as the intended meanings in the mouths of all these people is unable to be coordinated to a single, specific use. In other words, the term ‘rights’ has been subject to sufficient memetic decay that anyone still using it fails to realize it is tied to a theory of social prescription which can no longer articulate its own relation to reality. ‘Mass’ is a more object-level word, as it can be defined in relation to clearly demonstrable phenomena, and so while one observes that it is subject to a high degree of misuse by the scientifically illiterate (i.e. most people), there are enough institutional interests in preserving the use of the word in a technical sense for a technical community that it shall continue to be used. On the other hand, words such as ‘rights’ are slung by people who haven’t even heard of Rousseau, which should tell you something about both the term ‘rights’ and Rousseau.

The lack of connection between a word and its use with reference to specifiable phenomena in the world tells you that the word is not only useful, it is poisonous, potentially tumorous. A word which, failing to have use in a technical sense but a high value in the social sense, will direct more intellectual resources to it so that one’s theory can use, or at least be about, that Schelling word and thus imbuing that person’s overall prescriptions with a greater degree of authority. (Consider, if you will, Rawls’ Theory of Justice, which isn’t actually about ‘justice’ whatsoever but just a platform for extending Rawls’ half-assed argument defending the already-decided liberal status quo of blank slate utilitarian considerations of resource distribution and allocation in society from the productive to the not, i.e. it’s a slave morality.)

This also suggests a means for discovering useful words which facilitate healthy intellectual formation; before allowing yourself to use a word as a tool in constructing your understanding, check that others using the word are also able to demonstrate a usefulness to those words. In general this lends a bias in favor of words with sufficient technicality that their use quickly distinguishes between dilettantes who picked up a slogan from MSNBC which portrays a neat use of those words and those who use the words in a specific fashion to denote the same thing consistently.

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